Halogen Lighting

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A halogen lamp is a type of filament lamp with slightly higher efficacy than standard GLS filament lamps. Halogen lighting is popular but suffers a number of drawbacks compared to better types of lighting.

To those who have not heard of the various issues before, the sheer number of issues may come as a surprise.


Halogen capsules run extremely hot. Contact with paper or plastic quickly causes ignition.

  • This is not a problem with downlighters using reflector lamps, as these have lower surface temps and gravity normally keeps flammables away.
  • However it is a serious shortcoming of halogen uplighters.

Halogen downlighters are usually mounted in holes in the ceiling. They pierce the plasterboard fire & smoke barrier, permitting quicker spread of fire and lethal smoke in house fires.

Approx 500 people die in house fires per year. 40,000 will die in house fires in one 80 year lifetime. How many of those would have survived if not for a compromised ceiling fire & smoke break I have no idea. I guess it would be a large number of fire deaths multiplied by small odds, but what number this comes out to I don't know.

So installing halogen downlighting is a small risk to life for you and your family.

The solution to this problem is intumescent fire hoods. These are floppy hoods that fit over the light fitting, and in a fire they will swell up and block the hole. However they are usually not fitted, and they're not much help when you don't have them.

Energy efficiency

Halogen capsules are a bit more energy efficient than GLS filament bulbs. However they are mostly used in dowlighting, which is an energy inefficient method of lighting. The end result of such setups is very poor energy efficiency. This translates into

  • energy waste
  • pollution
  • money waste
  • higher indoor temperatures in summer
  • discomfort in summer
  • increased aircon running costs when aircon is used.
  • higher indoor temps while a/c is running for small and portable aircon units.


Don't worry about the cost of the light fittings, you'll pay 4 figures extra to run them.

2 rooms with 5x 50w halogen bulbs each is 500w of halogen lighting, versus 200w of filament or 50w of CFL.

If these are on 6 hours a day, annual energy run cost = 6*365*0.5*10 = £110 at 10p per unit.

Compare this with GLS at £44 a year, or CFL at £11 a year.

So the extra electricity cost over CFL is £99 a year for just 2 rooms. Per 25 year product life that's £2,475. For 2 rooms only. Light your whole house in halogen and it'll be a fair whack more.

And the extra electricity cost over GLS is £66 a year for just 2 rooms. Per 25 year product life that's £1,650 extra for 2 rooms only. Again, light your whole house in halogen and its more.

Then there's the cost of the bulbs. For 2 rooms with 10 bulbs total, with 1500hr low voltage bulbs @ 75p each thats 6*365*10 = 21,900 hours of bulb operation per year, or 14.6 bulbs. @75p each that's £11. Not much. Over 25 years its £275.

Compare with GLS 1000hr bulbs @ 20p each, 4380 bulb hours = 4.4 bulbs = 88p

Compare with CFL, 4380 bulb hours is apx 1 bulb per year @ apx £2.

Total extra cost of halogens for only 2 rooms over 25 year product life is:

  • compared to GLS: £1650 + £274 = an extra £1,900 per 2 rooms.
  • compared to CFL: £2475 + £273 = an extra £2,750 per 2 rooms.



The one thing I like least about halogen downlighters is that they make it impossible to lean back comfortably in your own home. Lean back, face upwards, and you're looking into a very intense light source that contains UV. This means pain.

On a lesser level, halogen downlights bouncing off glossy surfaces such as kitcen worktops cause a dimmed reflection of the high intensity light bulb, meaning more discomfort and glare. Bouncing off stainless steel utensiles its worse. Much worse.

Glare impacts visibility. Its harder to see things properly when you've got a high light level shining into your eyes.

Illumination Levels

Halogen downlighters are spotlights. They need to be, as seeing such an intense bulb in the line of vision would be intolerable.

Spotlights give uneven illumination, halogens more so than most because they're such small light sources. Uneven illumination means dark underlit areas. To make up for this one has to use many lights scattered round the room, and raise the overall lighting level so that the dimmer areas are adequately lit.

The result is uneven illumination, which does not aid clear vision, and over intense illumination, which is wasteful as well as uncomfortable.

Relamping frequency

Relamping (replacing light bulbs) is a normal inconvenience of any lighting. But halogen downlighters are unusually poor in this respect.

For low voltage halogens, a set of 5x 1500hr (mean life) bulbs means 5 are replaced per 1500 hrs of operation, which is one per 300 hours on average. 3 rooms with 5 in each means a bulb for each 100 hours of use.

Compare this with a single GLS lamp at one per 1000 hours, or CFL at one per (typically) 5,000-8,000 hrs.

Mains voltage halogens have a second problem. As well as needing lots of bulbs they have fragile filaments prone to premature failure. This often increases bulb consumption further.

Note the premature failure problem applies to mains halogen downlighters, but not to low voltage halogens, nor to high power mains halogens (300w,500w). The high relamping rate applies to all multi-bulb halogen lighting installations.


Halogen lamps run at high pressure when hot. Due to high pressure and high temperature, lamp envelopes do occasionally physically fail. Thankfully this isn't too common, but when it occurs you've got lots of pieces of quartz lamp envelope flying out at speed, all hot enough to set fire to things. If you're in the vicinity, you really have a problem.

The solution to this is a toughened glass guard. This prevents fragments of shattered bulb flying out of the fitting.

  • Reflector bulbs have this built in, as the outer glass of the bulb is a separate item pre-fitted to the inner halogen capsule. So these are not an explosion risk.
  • When using small capsule bulbs, all fittings should have a glass guard fitted.
  • For high power linear halogens, often used outdoors, the fitting should always have a glass guard.
  • Many fittings that need a glass guard have none. These are a known risk.


Unlike GLS lamps and CFLs, halogen capsules produce ultra violet. UVA, present in ordinary sunlight, is a known carcinogen.

Glass covers filter this out, and halogens require a glass cover for reasons in the section above. However not all fittings have glass covers. Those that don't will produce UV.

The level of UV produced is much lower than that in sunlight, so the risk will be very much lower too. On the other hand sunlight does cause a lot of cases of skin cancer.

MCB trips

When filament bulbs blow they sometimes trip the mcb, taking all the lights out. Mains halogens are worse at this for 3 reasons:

  • Halogen lighting uses many more bulbs, which increases the odds of a trip by several times.
  • Halogens have higher switch on surge than GLS filament bulbs, which adds to any arc current to give higher odds of the mcb tripping.
  • Halogen capsules are small compared to GLS filaments, much increasing the odds of arc-over.

This problem does not apply to 12v halogens, which are normally soft started and current limited by electronic 12v transformers.


Dimming halogen bulbs reduces their output a lot while reducing power consumption only a little. This is more a criticism of dimmers rather than halogen lights, but is relevant because people sometimes combine the 2, creating an even more inefficient system.

A 500w halogen outputting the light level of a 40w GLS bulb was found to be consuming 300w. A 9w CFL would produce the same output, avoiding 97% of that electricity consumption.

The solution to the dimming problem is a switchbank. These work well with all types of lighting other than halogen, but they aren't quite as easy to implement with halogen.

  • First the norm is to use several bulbs per transformer, and to switchbank them you need to buy extra transformers, 1 or 2 bulbs per transformer. The extra cost will get saved many times over, but most people don't know it and so don't choose it.
  • Second, halogen lighting is so directional than some on some off gives more uneven lighting than with all other lighting types. The result is that lower power settings are used less often with halogen.

For both these reasons and more, dimmers tend to be chosen over switchbanks with halogen lights, resulting in even grosser inefficiency.

Something Good

Perhaps a fan of halogen lighting can find something good to say about them. 'I like them' is all I've heard so far.

Even for high power outdoor lighting, mercury, sodium and metal halide all offer several times the energy efficiency and much lower run cost than halogen.

If you want lots of small lights, see the workaround section below.


If you really want the style of halogen lighting but don't want all the problems, there is one way to do that. That is to use very much lower power downlights, eg 5w instead of 50w, using non-halogen uplighting to provide the bulk of the required lighting. The small downlighting bulbs can be CFL or filament.

Some 3w, 5w, 7w and 9w CFLs will fit into R80 spotlight fittings.

If you really want the filament look, another options is car lightbulbs. These provide various low wattage bulbs that will all run off a standard 12v halogen transformer, and some (eg double ended interior light bulbs) are small enough to be go in surface mounted fittings. You will however need to either take standard fittings and replace the bulbholder or produce your own fittings.

With non-halogen filament bulbs the bulbs are best mounted so the filament is more visible to give the impression of a brighter bulb. A semi-visible 5w filament bulb is a lot more comfortable than a 50w halogen reflector lamp!


Other than all those problems, I'm sure halogen downlighting is a great idea. I just can't think how.

See Also

Fluorescent Lighting LED Lighting